Granduca di Sicilia
NEW YORK, N.Y. – When the German poet Goethe arrived in Sicily in 1787, he wrote, “It is impossible to have an idea of Italy without seeing Sicily. The key of everything is in Sicily.” He was probably referring to Sicily’s countless invaders who gave the land and people a distinct identity while in return exploiting its territory and leaving their former subjects confused and disillusioned with the always broken promises of its successors.
In spite of this discontent over the centuries with their oppressive rulers that some believe continues even in the twenty-first century, the island’s legacy of foreign marauders is infinite and fascinating, leading many to investigate Sicily’s historical imprints further. As a result, one of the many imprints that is discussed when talking about Sicily is its cuisine.
Recently, my good friend and I ate at Granduca di Sicilia on 24th street between 5th & 6th Avenues in the Gramercy & Flatiron district of Manhattan. As soon as we entered, I was reminded of Sicily’s unique by the exotic, Mediterranean décor that is captivating. One of the strikingly different objects that almost greets patrons at the door is a king size ceramic bowl laden with lemons and oranges. Citrus fruits were first introduced to Sicily by the Arabs (or Saracens, a term used to describe the Arabian peoples) during the Arab domination of the island in the ninth century.
In Sicilian cuisine therefore, these fruits are used in some pasta and meat sauces as well as in dessert recipes. We were accompanied to our table by a statuesque blonde maitre d’ with an infectious smile, and as we made our way we we were overwhelmed by the images appearing on flat screen TVs, as well as projected on the walls of the very spacious restaurant. Many of the images on the walls at Granduca di Sicilia are beautiful photos of Sicily and one, in particular, depicts Mt. Etna erupting.
The Sicilian-themed decor doesn’t stop there. Throughout Granduca di Sicilia,there is handmade Italian tile imported from Caltagirone. It adorns part of the bar, walls and even the restrooms, which are surprisingly appealing. The rustic décor is even evident on the tables where there are whimsical, marionette-shaped candle holders that the waiters and waitresses dressed in traditional black and white clothes similar to the contadini, or farmers of Sicily. Another element that makes Granduca di Siclia very traditional in its Sicilian appeal is that, when it’s not-so humid, the staff (excluding managers) wear vintage, flat fisherman style caps.
Overall, the decor at Granduca di Sicilia provided traditional and appealing elements – but what about the food and service?
Well, our waitress immediately welcomed us. After taking advantage of happy hour and ordering two glasses of Nero D’Avola wine, she recounted the day’s specials. Another recurring observation that I am noticing in many New York restaurants is the difficulty in understanding some of the waiters/waitresses, especially when they say the dish in Italian first and then translate into English. I do think however, this is what defines New York City, as well as the rest of America.
Once we deciphered the specials, I ordered the pollo al mattone (grilled chicken) as my entrée and for an appetizer, the traditional Italian cold antipasto. The pollo al mattone is served with a side order of potatoes seasoned with fresh rosemary. The potatoes appeared baked and crispy on the top with the juices of the chicken draped over. I enjoyed the potatoes more than the chicken. This is not to say the chicken was bad; it just did not knock me out of the ballpark. What did “rock my world,” as well as my friend’s, is the polpettine (small meatballs) that he ordered for his appetizer,which were served in red sauce and are outstanding and memorable.
Granduca di Sicilia opened on April 4, 2012 and is part of a family of restaurants, as the fourth location, for restaurateur Ettore Manuli. The original Granduca can be found in a 15th-century manor owned by a noble family in the small Sicilian city of Taormina, with other locations in St. Maarten and Midtown Manhattan.
Granduca di Sicilia is at 30 West 24th St, New York, New York, 10010 | 212-837-1610– http://www.granducadisicilia.com